The Bodhicaryavatara of Santideva (Entering the Path of Enlightenment)

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Item Code: IHE019
Author: Marion L. Matics
Publisher: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
Edition: 2007
ISBN: 9788120832374
Pages: 318
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.6” X 5.5”
Weight 390 gm
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Book Description
Back of the Book

This work contains the first complete English translation of the Sanskrit Bodhicaryavatara of the Buddhist poet Santideva. In this beautiful and moving classic of Mahayana Buddhism. Santideva, a monk living in Nalanda in the early eight century A.D. describes the Bodhisattva vow, the promise of heroic beings to strive for nirvana but to postpone full entrance into the realm of the absolute until every other sentient creature also attains the bliss of Enlightenment. The classic of Mahayana Buddhism has often been compared to both the Dhammapada of Hinayana Buddhism and The Imitation of Christ by Thomas a kempis.

THE MIND OF THE BODHISTAVA is the real theme of Santideva’s work, and to him as to any Mahayana adherent, it is a truly tremendous them. It is like taking the mind of Christ as defined by orthodox Christianity and typing to find out all that is contained within it. Perhaps, in some ways it is an even greater theme….for to understand the Mind of Enlightenment Being, as defined by the Mahayana is to understand all the myriad works of illusion through which we are said to be swept by karma and it is to understand exactly how to escape from those terrible worlds and it is to find out precisely what lies beyond them and in the end it is to be what lies beyond them. It is not only to understand all things. It is to become oneself the mind of the Bodhisattva…. Such is the theme which Santideva examines.’


Kalyana mitra the good friend so highly praised by Santideva has many representatives standing in the background of this translation and study professor Horace L. Friess of Columbia University for so many years an invaluable help to countless students in the Department of Religion, merits and herewith receives acknowledgement for encouraging and presiding over this project when it was in its embryo form as a doctoral thesis. My advisor in those days, Professor Royal W. Weiler (now of the university of Pennsylvania), who was intimately connected with its preparation in its original form, offered help which was indispensable and which remains in evidence in many of the superior parts of the translation. He is responsible for an abundance of its most attractive features, yet none of its flaws; and my appreciation for his assistance is unbounded. Sentimental though it may be mention also must be made of Professor Robert A. Fowkes of New York University who saved me form a terrible death by drowning in the raging and merciless sea of beginning Sanskrit. To these three outstanding teachers the thanks of a grateful student.

Among the many other scholars to whom this work also is indebted it will be obvious to anyone knowledgeable in the field that heavy reliance has been placed upon the work of Franklin Edgerton a truly great man of Indic studies Louis de la Vallee Poussin, Louis Finot T.R.V. Murti, Har Dayal Heinrich Zimmer and many others to whom this work is obligated, have become like old friends but most of all Edward Conze and D.T. Suzuki Dr. Conze through the courteous intermediary of the Buddhist society has allowed me the use of several of his translations in typescript, and a microfilm version of his dictionary of Prajna-paramita terms. This is only the beginning of an indebtedness however which is shared by a whole generation of men and women who have learned of the great concepts of Buddhism by way of his lucid translations and enthusiastic studies Likewise, Dr. Suzuki another great scholar who the ability to speak to multitudes of people beyond the boundaries of academic concern is a towering figure before whom anyone at all interested in Buddhist studies must stand in awe. His generosity was as great as his scholarly achievement.

I should also like to mention the unfailing courtesy and interest of the Lamas and others of Labsum Shedrub Ling, the Lamaist Buddhist monastery of America and its presiding genius, Geshe Wangyal. In addition my wife Eleanor Matics and daughter, Kathleen Matics, have rendered assistance of many sorts which has been of enormous benefit of this enterprise of interpreting understanding and explaining the thought of one of the greatest Mahayana authors.

The Guide which precedes the translation is an effort, first of all to comprehend and to explain sympathetically the beautiful and profound classic which is the Bodhicaryavatra, and secondly to place it in perspective in the evolving history of Buddhist thought. It is not a critique of Santideva but an appreciation which it is hoped will speak for itself. However if a critique had been intended it might have been suggested that monastic asceticism carried to excess e.g. all that interest in cemeteries the vileness of the beloved’s corpse excrement etc, always has been an embarrassment to the teaching of the Buddha. Surely human affection is more – far more – than the enslavement describe by some celibate ascetics. A critique also might have commented on the curious doctrine of the equality of the self and the other and the transference of the self and the other as exercises belonging primarily to the realm of trance. At the same time it is insight which does make its point quite clear that we are creature of extreme self-interest and need some such drastic treatment to cure us of the ultimate sickness. Perhaps we should view these notion as an exercise of preparation and acknowledge that we are indeed so selfish that just such a type of meditation might help us all.

Most of all however a critique would document the main thrust of Santideva and the Mahayana in general the compassion of the Buddha for all the sentient beings. It is an awesome and overwhelming compassion which finds its expression both in the Bodhisattva’s career and in reference to another dimension than that in which e usually live and sorrow – a dimension both transcendent and immanent – which is total compassion, beauty, tranquility and peace. Santideva’s vision not selfishly limited to humanity encompasses every creature which can suffer pain for every from of life is a brother and every living entity is a challenge to be kind.


The Rise of The Madhayamika

The warm, friendly, and attractive Hindu sage whom men called Gautama Sakyamuni, the Buddha which is to say the Awakened One, lived in northern India approximately from 563 to 483 B.C. His life and the legends surrounding his life are indistinguishable at this late date and while present Buddhists do not insist upon the accuracy of every story told about him they interpret them all as expressions of the humane and kindly spirit which he unvaryingly displayed. The basic outline is familiar to all lands which have been touched by his dual teaching of Compassion and Enlightenment – how a prince of the Sakya tribe, brought up in a little Kingdom in the foothills of the Himalayas and showered with every materialistic luxury, was so impressed by the Four Signs of sickness, old age, death and asceticism, that he fled from his palace to seek release from the inevitable suffering which is the fate of all sentient beings. After living for a time with ascetic yogins whose torture of the body distracted from the search for truth, he discovered the Middle Way between mortification and self-indulgence as the proper path leading to his supramundane goal. In due course after heroic meditational effort involving direct confrontation with the King of Hell and his daughters of Lust, Restlessness, and Greed, along with every demonic power and temptation, Gautama did achieve the ultimate Enlightenment at Bodhgaya. His first Sermon in the deer park at Benares enunciated the Four Noble Truth i.e. life is marked by suffering, the cause of suffering is desire (which is to say, in effect, selfishness in its most profound psychological and ontological sense) the cessation of suffering is the extinguishing of desire the way to this cessation of sorrow is the noble eightfold path of Right View, Right Intent, Right Speech Right Conduct, Right Means of livelihood, Right Endeavor, Right Mindfulness, Right Meditation. This great sermon set in motion the Turning of the wheel of the Dharma, which was the beginning of Buddhism in the present world cycle for followers quickly gathered in order that they might learn to overcome temporal distress and achieve an ultimate potential so vast that it could hardly be described other than as Nirvana, a timeless state of truth beyond all concepts of being and nonbeing the fundamental happiness and the only peace. For many years the Buddha wandered from place to place with his followers doing many wonderful and seemingly miraculous deeds of kindness to all creatures, and teaching the Dharma without regard for caste or rank to all who cared to listen. When an old man, he died (so to speak) composedly and peacefully entering Parinirvana – the permanent Nirvana beyond what we call death; commending his teaching to all who suffer and comforting his bereaved disciples with the famous words, “Doomed to extinction are composite things; exert yourself in wakefulness.” At his death the air itself became luminous and clear, sounds of music came from nowhere and his funeral pyre leapt into spontaneous flame while the air was filled with the scent of jasmine.

To this day one of the oldest formulas of faith is the Triple Refuge: I go for refuge to the Buddha I go for refuge to the Dharma I go for refuge to the Sangha Repeated thrice the threefold statement refers the followers of the Buddha’s way to the original Sakyamuni Buddha who pointed out the way; as well as to the Dharma – the corpus of his teaching and the reality which his teaching signifies; and the Sangha – the ongoing body of monks, and in a larger sense, the worldwide community which preserves knowledge of the Dharma practices it, and shares it with all who are inclined to a profound and beautiful interpretation of man’s existential predicament in a heartless universe.

In due time, of course, in company with other great religions of the world, Buddhism developed and acknowledged with good grace many variant forms of philosophic, ritualistic devotional, and artistic expression. The diverse ethnic backgrounds and religious traditions of the scattered population which welcomed this gentle teaching, along with the variations of temperament, education, and taste, on the part of individuals sympathetic to it, demanded the utmost flexibility and tolerance. Buddhism’s record of friendly toleration of variant schools of thought has been regarded by many observes as one of the happier achievements of mankind and while sectarianism is perhaps not unknown to any human institution this missionary faith is singularly marked by a spirit of accommodation which has made religious wars impossible and kept exclusive dogmatism at the minimum. In the golden ages of Buddhism, as in that happy era of modern Tibet before the barbarous Communist invasion, the monks of radically differing schools lived side by side, debating and teaching with mutual respect and good humor and demonstrating even to fellow member that their religion, as one of the sutras say is founded on “boundless good will.”

The definition of the original Buddhism, as taught by Sakyamuni Buddha is to some extent determined by the particular outlook to which one gives allegiance within the general system. The same thought may be applied to any religion; and it may be that some scholars of both East and West particularly of the past, have occasionally been a little quick in defining the teaching of original Buddhism in the most gaunt and simple terms. Many books have pictured the Buddha as presenting an ethical system of uttermost simplicity which gradually deteriorated into an elaborate complex of polytheistic design and metaphysical emphasis. The evidence is really too slight for such cut-and-dried analysis, whatever the germ of truth it may contain; and in a way the whole argument between the schools of Buddhism (as between the schools of any other religion) lies precisely in this question, what is authentic? What is true? What is accurate? Perhaps all of the schools are true in the sense that they represent emphases which were latent within the original Dharma.

In any case the Madhyamika school of Buddhist philosophy, to which the poet Santideva adhered, is a truly noble attempt to elucidate and make vivid the basic teachings of Sakyamuni Before examining Santideva’s great classic, the Bodhicaryavatara, “Entering the path of Enlightenment,” a brief outline of the rise of the Madhyamika is necessary as a background of understanding and appreciation of Santideva’s specific contribution. The easiest way is to start with the early Councils of Buddhism and to note the basic division between Hinayana and Mahayana schools, corresponding roughly to Southern and northern Buddhism and the development is one of the Mahayana point of view. The Madhyamika is one of several versions of this general interpretation of the way of the Buddha.

1. Hinayana and Mahayana

Tradition records that within the same year as the Buddha’s final entry into Nirvana (perhaps 483?) five hundred monks gathered together at Rajagrha (the capital of the Magadha kingdom) to agree on the teachings of the Enlightened one and to codify the Rule of the Order. A hundred years later a second council met a Vaisali (Modern Basarh in Bihar Province) under less harmonious and agreeable circumstances. A schism occurred between two groups of monks who quarreled primarily over points of discipline and in all probability initiated the basic division between the Hinayana and Mahayana interpretation of the Buddha’s teaching. The minority party, claming to uphold traditional views, withdrew and eventually evolved into the Theravada school-the school of the Teaching of the Elders, pejoratively described by its opponents as Hinayana the laser Vehicle. The majority group which remained in the council designated themselves as the “Great Assembly” (mahasangha) or “Great Recitation” (mahasangiti) which presumably foreshadowed the Mahayana the so-called Greater Vehicle. To put this schism into proper perspective as it relates to the original Dharma, it must be remembered that the canon of Hinayana Scriptures was not committed to writing until the first century b.c. and the Mahayana books were put into writing sometime there after. Oral tradition bridge and the gap between the original teaching of the Buddha and the written record of his dharma.

By the Third Council, said to have been called by Asoka (or his son) at Pataliputra in the mid-third century B.C there were already some eighteen interrelated schools within the Hinayana; and judging from later events, no doubt a similar proliferation within the Mahayana. It does not serve our purpose to relate the rise and fall of the various schools – all of which no doubt possessed many merits, but the basic distinction between Hinayana and Mahayana is fundamental to an understanding of any Buddhist history which extends beyond the virtually. India of course, gave birth to both the schools and for a time supported each: in due course, the Hinayana established itself as the principal form of Buddhism in Ceylon Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia; and the Mahayana in the areas bordering the Himalayas – Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal, Ladakh and of course, Tibet. The Great Vehicle spread to Mongolia, China, Korea, and Japan although the Hinayana was known and studied in all of those places; and in general it represents a warm and friendly type of Buddhism which somewhat like Latin Church of medieval Christendom, is able provide for the needs of the many, many different types of personality and temperament found among the masses of its adherents. An elaborate ritual and mythology is available to the unlearned and those of the learned who like this kind of religious interest; a clear and reasonable pattern of life is provided for the layman while within the Sangha the discipline ranges from the comfortable married life favored by many of the followers of Padmasambhava, to the heroic asceticism which will be noted shortly in our study Santideva; and the teaching itself extends from a simple assertion of faith in the power of a specific Buddha or Bodhisattva to lift one to the threshold of Enlightenment, to the abstruse and rarified realms of subtlest metaphysical speculation.

In general, the hero of the Hinayana schools is the Arhat the enlightened ascetic who by the control of passion and error has almost freed himself from phenomenal fetters and attained Nirvana. In contradistinction the Mahayana hero is the Bodhisattva who possesses all the qualities of the Arhat but foregoes Nirvana because of his compassion for all living beings. The Buddhas who inhabit Buddha fields in inexpressible number have the Bodhisattvas as their connection with the suffering of sentient creatures in all of the six realms of enslavement – the heavens and hells, the worlds of hungry ghosts, titan-like heavenly creatures, animals, and men. Bodhisattvas are therefore both cultic figures of adoration, and at the same time, known or unknown helpers with whom we rub elbows every day. They could escape to Buddhahood if they wished, but they vow to remain within the framework of phenomenal existence until all creatures achieve Enlightenment. Theirs is the ultimate altruism: And thus it was that the Chinese pilgrim, I-Tsing (A.D 635-713), probably a younger contemporary of Santideva, was able to state succinctly the difference between the Greater and the Lesser Vehicles: “Those who worship Bodhisattvas and read Mahayana Sutras are called Mahayanists, while those who do not do this called Hinayanists.” Some, no doubt, would consider I-Tsing’s to be an overly simple differentiation, but perhaps all that needs to be make it generally complete, is the further remark that the Mahayana tended to a proliferation of both Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and to a type of meta physical speculation which attempted to push beyond the experience of Nirvana to the unconditioned reality which that experience represents and in some cases to a type of salvation by faith and invocation.

The Arhat is the perfect man in his generation, but the Bodhisattva spans innumerable aeons of cosmic time. Within his generation, however, the Arhat is truly worthy of all respect. Indeed, his very name is generally derived in modern studies from the verb name is arhati, “he is worthy,” although Buddhist exegesis traditionally prefers to find its origin in the two words, ari, “enemy” and han, “to kill or destroy” Thus he is “one who destroys an enemy” the one who destroys the enemy of passion. He is the ascetic in whom the four intoxicant “outflows” (desire, lust for rebirth false opinion and ignorance) have dried up. He is indifferent to worldly entanglements, and for this reason he is beyond ordinary categories of merit and demerit, Karmic law, inexorable in all the rest of the cosmos, cannot hold him, and when his life draws to its normal end, regardless of whatever Karma remains left over, he passes into the bliss of Nirvana. The good deeds of such a man are many and wonderful, and if the charge of selfishness is brought against him, as by some of the Mahayana writers his defense is ready made: it is the teaching of the Buddha that the only real help is self help. In the course of our study we shall see that the Bodhisattva although on the plane of phenomenality taking a vow to do nothing but help others and that unceasingly, nevertheless, still is engaged on another plane in the only worthwhile pursuit for a thinking being – the discipline of thought, the cleansing of the “City of the Mind” –which in the end since there is said to be no individuality anywhere amounts to self help in so far as there is a “self”. More superficially considered however the Bodhisattva is an extrovert Savior whereas the Arhat is an introvert saint.

Philosophically, the Arhat comes first, and the Bodhisattva is an extension or development of his spiritual personality, and it is generally thought that this also historically true. In any case the towering figure of the Bodhisattva, as is proper for a major concept of Indian speculation, rises abruptly out of an historical mist. The main elements which contributed to the development of his personality are clear enough, but only in a very general way: the details of the story, the exact manner in which the parts fall into place somewhere during the first hundred or so years of the Christian era, constitute a problem of which the answer is, at best, theoretical and unclear. The elements include the abovementioned, yet not frequently noted, metaphysical similarity and near-identity of Arhat and Bodhisattva the amassing of Jataka material telling of Sakyamuni adventures as a Bodhisattva in the long incarnations preceding Enlightenment the additional legends raising the Buddha to a kind of Savior and god which are found in the Avadana and the other early Mahayana literature, such as the Mahavastu and the Lalitavistara the various paradise sutras which allowed for the development of an ever fuller and increasingly ornate mythology the rise of the bhakta (the devotee seeking salvation by love and by faith, rather than by trance or by knowledge) and his probable influence on the Buddhist laity; and possible outside influence of Greek, Persian, or Nestorian Christian origin. We are concerned here only with the Mahayana Hero in his glorious maturity, and with the very strange ideas that are cherished within the City of his Mind.

2. Prajna- paramita Texts

Buddhas and Bodhisattva achieve their uttermost glorification in such well- known (but difficult to date) Mahayana sutras as the Lotus Sutras, the Saddharma-pundarika (describing Sakyamuni as a pre-existent and eternal being who utilizes every skillful means for the salvation of beings); the Avalokitesvara-guna-karanda-vyuha (relating the beneficent activities of Avalokitesvara, a Bodhisattva who saves creatures in any and all circumstances); the Sukhavati-vyuha (picturing in great beauty the paradise of the Buddha Amitabha); the Aksobhya-vyuha and the a Karuna-pundrika (which relate respectively the wonders of the paradise belonging to Aksobhya and padmottara). But there is another type of Mahayana, writing which is of greater devotional depth. This is the corpus of the various Prajna-Paramita texts, which teaches a nonsystematic religious philosophy, fervent devotion and rich in poetic expression centering on the notion that all is Emptiness. If the ornate sutras of the Lotus Sutra type define and lavishly describe the character and activity of the Bodhisattva, it is the Prajna-Paramita which reveals the contents of his mind.

This remarkable literature has been called not only the most important of the text treasured by the Madhyamika the school to which Santideva belonged, but in addition, the very foundation of Mahayana metaphysics. It consists of some thirty-eight Sanskrit books of varying length which were composed between the first century b.c and the first few centuries A.D. The oldest still are in the dialogue form of early Pali writings, and in them the Buddha continues to address one or another of his disciples in this case particularly Subhuti, the special master of the Prajna-paramita, in contrast to the general practice of Mahayana sutras, which usually have him converse with one the great Bodhisattva. They are written in prose slokas (sloka, a literary unit of thirty-two syllables), and it is thought that at least one of them (although there is some question as to which one) was translated into Chinese as early as a.d 148. The principal volumes include the Astasahasrika-prajna-paramita-sutra. “The sutra on the perfection of wisdom in 8,000 slokas,” which generally is considered by modern scholars (here in accord with Tibetan tradition) to be probably the oldest and its shorter verse summary possible original, as the case may be, the Ratna-guna-samcaya-gatha, “Verses on the Accumulation of Precious Qualities.” It may be (at least it is the prevailing theory) that the Astasahasrika was expended in the Satasahasrika (100,000 slokas) and the Pancavimsatisahasrika (25,000 slokas) and then condensed in the Sardhavisahasrika (25,000 slokas) the Saptasatika (700 slokas) and the Adhyardhasatika (150 slokas). Another work of the same type as these is the extremely popular and influential Vajrac chedika-prajna–paramita (in 300 Slokas), “The perfection of wisdom that is a Diamond Cutter,” usually called “The Diamond Sutra.” Its name conveys the sense of cutting through problems with the facility of a sharp diamond which cuts through glass. Then there is the extremely short Prajna-paramita-hrdaya-sutra the famous “Heart Sutra” and the Alpaksara-prajna-paramita, “The perfection of wisdom which is the Slightest sound” which attempts to reduce the perfection of wisdom into a single vocal utterance namely the sound of the latter “A” That the main corpus of this literature was known to Santideva is evidence by its quotation the Siksa-samuccaya (a compendium of his authorship containing quotation from many Buddhist books) as well as by the predominance of ideas from this source. It is so taken for granted that his tendency is to refer to it under the general heading of Prajna –paramita without mentioning specific titles. Notable expectation are the Astasahasrika and the Vajracchedika, both of which are mentioned by name.

The ideas of the Prajna-paramita all mentioned coverage in the totally inclusive concept of Sunyata, which is translatable as “Emptiness,” or “the Void”. It is a world has two basic meanings: First it is relativity of all things, and second it is whatever is left over when all things are removed. Some will say that this definition does not make sense, and the proper reply is that it is not supposed to make sense. That which is left over is the Unconditioned, and the Unconditioned is beyond all categories of discursive reason. According to the Prajna-paramita nothing at all can be asserted of the unconditioned and all that can be asserted of the conditioned is that all conditioned things are phenomenal relative, and substantially unreal. Specifically, this means that every dharma (the technical term devised by the Abhidharma schools of earlier Buddhism to indicate the ultimate realities of any particular moment) has no unconditioned or genuine existence. As stated in the Prajna-paramita-hrdaya-sutra the heart sutra: “... all dharmas are marked with emptiness they are not produced or stopped not defiled or immaculate, not deficient or complete.”

This drastic position leaves no place for any fundamental differentiation between the world of phenomenality and the realm of absolute truth, since both of these terms are conceptual fabrication of the mind. Nirvana and Samsara are identical. There is no separation, no distinction, no obstacle or barrier, between Noumenon and phenomena. There is only the illusion produced by the mind which creates the false bifurcation. “The absolute” writes Murti, is the only real; it is the reality of Samsara, which is sustained by false construction (kalpana). The absolute looked at through the thought-forms of constructive imagination is the empirical world; and conversely, the absolute is the world viewed sub specie aeternitatis without these distorting media of thought.

On the phenomenal side of existence, Sunyata is veiled by illusion (maya), and illusion is responsible for the differentiation of all things. This leaves the world as we know it totally without validity and yet that same world as we do not know it is the possessor, source, and goal, of more than infinite validity. Thus it is stated in the Astasahasrika-prajna -paramita attempted to enlighten the gods.

Those who learn the doctrine from me, one should wish to be like an illusionary magical creation for they will neither hear my words nor experience the facts which they express…… Like a magical illusion are those beings, like a dream. For not two different things are magical illusion and beings, are dreams and brings. All objective facts are like a magical illusion, like a dream …. A fully enlightened Buddha also… is like a magical illusion is like a dream Buddhahood also…. Is like a magical illusion, is like a dream …. Even if perchance there could be anything more distinguished, of that too I would say that it is like an illusion like a dream. For not two different things are illusion and Nirvana are dreams and Nirvana.

Yet at the time that which is revealed by the Perfection of Wisdom (a revelation which by definition is nonrational and hence the result of some sort of intuitional experience), that which is left after all things have been removed, that Unconditioned, is without limitation. Although we are not supposed to be able to say anything about it many terms of a descriptive nature are used as arrows or signs are used to point beyond themselves. That which is left is inexhaustible and boundless. It can be never be destroyed. It cannot become extinct. The path of its discovery is the denial of all things, but the unconditioned itself can never be defined.

The Perfection of Wisdom which is the total knowledge of Sunyata is “the sameness of all dharmas” and “the isolation (e.g. ultimate unrelatedness) of all dharmas”. It is “devoid of mental acts.” It has “but one single taste.” It is “nonproduction”. It is “nonstopping”. As the ocean is boundless so is perfect wisdom. As Meru shines in multicolored brilliance so does the perfection of wisdom.” It is “not fashioned”. It is “Self-identical” It is “adamantine” and undifferentiated.” It remains the same.” It is unthinkable.”

On this great concept is founded the Madhyamika school of Buddhism, the systematic dialectic of the philosopher Nagarjuna and the inspiration homiletic of the poet Santideva.

3 Nagarjuna and the Madhyamika School

The systematizer of the Prajna-paramita and the generally acknowledged founder of the Madhyamika was Nagarjuna, a profoundly impressive thinker who in all likelihood lived around a.d 150. The story of his life is richly encrusted with Tibetan legend, but the gist of it is that he was a Brahman convert who came from the south of India (perhaps from the region of Nagarjunakonda, site of the famous ruins in Andhra province) to teach the doctrines of the Prajna-paramita at the great Buddhist university at Nalanda (in the present-day region of Bihar). Somewhere along the way the serpent king, Nagaraja, invited him to visit the underwater dwelling of the Nagas, the semidivine serpent people, and there he was given the basic text of the Prajna-paramita, which had been given to the Nagas by the Buddha so that they might guard it until the world was ready. A commentary conveniently was included. For three hundred years (or perhaps six hundred if one follows Tibetan sources), Nagarjuna propagated the perfection of wisdom in India, and, according to the Chinese Tripitaka he wrote twenty-four books on this tremendous subject.

Nagarjuna’s chief work is the Mula-madhyamaka-karikas, which has been called the basic text of the basic text of the Madhyamika School, and which is the basis of eight large commentaries that were written about it, including the Akutobhaya by Nagarjuna himself and the classic Prasannapada by Candrakriti. The important doctrine of the two truths, viz, relative and absolute (to be discussed in chapter IV of the present work) is included in this monumental opus. On one plane all is Emptiness, which is the real meaning of the teaching of the Buddha, whereas on the everyday plane of existence his teaching – still true in any ordinary sense – is qualified by the relative circumstances of illusionary existence. How ever the principal value of this work and the most of Nagarjuna other writings, as they relate to the evolving history of Buddhist thought, lies in his attempted destruction of Abhidharma concepts (the “Beyond- Dharma” or traditional commentary on the Dharma), especially the Abhidharma assumptions that obvious causality exists, and dharmas exist- the ultimates of the passing moment which give that moment reality. The attack is merciless. One by one such concept are examined: pratyaya (causation), ayatanas (the six sense perception related to eye, ear, touch, taste smell, and mind), skandhas (the five grouping of elements which create the impression of form, felling, ideation, impulse, and consciousness), the dhatu ( the “root” elements of air, fire, water, earth, space, and awareness). And one by one they are resolved into emptiness by means of a subtle dialectic which seeks to destroy all positive affirmation including affirmation, of the negative. No opinions are upheld but all opinions are reduced to absurdity, leaving only a middle ground between affirmation and negation. This is why the school was called “the teaching of the Middle Way” (madhyamaka-darsana), because it sought a path between the antinomies of reason. Every view is shown to be self-contra-dictory, and the revelation of truth is left to the operation of intuitive insight. Santideva follows the same dialectical method and he will shortly provide us with sufficient examples but Santideva’s stress is devotional and pragmatic rather than systematic and philosophical.

Another lengthy work ascribes to Nagarjuna is the Maha- prajna-paramita-sastra a commentary on the Pancavimsatisa-hasrika -prajna-paramita which relates the Madhyamika dialectic of reductio ad absurdum more directly to the characteristic Mahayana themes of Buddhology, the nature of Bodhisattvas, and the development of the six perfection of which wisdom (prajna) is the last and all –inclusive. He is also said to be the author of Catuhstava, “Four Hymns” which represent the more emotional side of the great philosopher and which are comparable to Santideva’s more fervent approach.

The Madhyamika dialectic was taken up and applied to non-Buddhist schools by Aryadeva (c. 180-200 a.d) in the Catuhsataka (400 Slokas) of which the particular targets are the Samkhya and Vaisesika schools. Then, during the fifth century due to the opposition of two Madhyamika philosophers, the Madhyamika school divided Buddhapalita and Bhavaviveka were the founders respectively of the Prasangika and the Svatantrika branches. Buddhpalita reaffirmed the method of reductio ad absurdum dialectic, holding that no positive statement can be made of a Madhyamika position, there being none (at least in theory) whereas Bhavaviveka sought to state and to prove Madhyamika opinions on the basis of independent argumentation. In the sixth century the Prasangika viewpoint found a powerful champion in Candrakirti and Bhavaviveka’s system came to naught. Candrakirti’s main contribution however, was the application of Madhyamika dialectic to the views of the Vijnanavada, the idealistic school holding to the ultimate reality of mind, which had grown up probably during the fourth century a.d under the auspices of Maitreyanatha, Asanga, and Vasubhandhu) this is done in the Madhyamakavatara, “Introduction to the Madhyamika” and the Madhymika-karika-urtti, the famous “Commentary on (Nagarjuna) Madhyamika karikas which is called ironically the Prasannapada, “the clear worded.”

The Madhyamika School in its Prasangika form continued to flourish in India until the decline of Buddhism in that land in the twelfth century and it remains today, as adapted along. Tantric lines by Santaraksita and Kamalasila the dominant philosophy in Buddhist circle in Tibet and Mongolia. It is the official philosophy of the Ge-lug-pa the yellow hat sect over which the Dalai Lama beneficently presides.

4 Santideva

The poet Santideva in the early eighth century a.d was a member of the Prasangika branch of the Madhyamika and it will be seen that in the Bodhicaryavatara he recapitulates the development of that school from Nagarjuna to his own day. Nagarjuna merciless destruction of Abhidharma concepts is repeated: there is no causation there are no dharmas, no elements and no groupings of elements. Samkhya concepts of primal matter (prakrti), individual soul (purusa), the threefold constituent quality of matter (guna) and other characteristics ideas of that philosophy, vigorously are denied as by a latter day Aryadeva and the atomism of the Vaisesika is as enthusiastically pulverized Buddhapalita’s assertion that nothing can be asserted other than the ridiculousness of one’s opponents ,is stated or implied throughout and Candrakirti arguments against the Vijnanavada are pointedly affirmed. By the time that Santideva finishes his arguments against rival Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophies he leaves us without phenomena or definable absolute, without causation, without the flashing moment of appearance that is based upon the dharmas, without matter or spirit or any combination, and without mind in any ultimate sense. He wields all of the principal weapons of the Madhyamika arsenal but at the same time his spirit is closer to the religious poetry of the Prajna-paramita than to the chilling disputation of philosophy and his originality lies in the application of the Prajna-paramita vision to the moral problems of man’s dilemma.

Of the life of Santideva it is impossible to say anything at all with certainty, except that he wrote two books, the Siksa-samuccaya, “A Compendium of Discipline” and the Bodhicaryavatra the subject of this study. The Siksa-samuccaya more of an encyclopedia of source than a creation of original thinking, is based on twenty-seven karikas (short, gnomic verse statements of basic principles) which constitute the framework of the volume. Making copious use of writers before him in order to explain his own meaning, Santideva Siksa-samuccaya is a kind of sympathetic commentary on the Bodhicaryavatra, which itself amounts to a study of the Mahayana as it is found in India just at the moment of its most luxuriant growth. It was also the moment when the first evidence of decay became perceptible if we are to trust the testimony of the Chinese travelers. When Santideva wrote the Prajna-paramita had been known for seven or eight hundred years the Madhyamika probably had existed as a separate school for about six hundred years and the opposing Vijnanavada for perhaps three or four hundred years. Buddhist Tantricism no doubt had arisen by then, but it does not figure in Santideva’s world as a force important enough to be either imitated or denounced. It certainly had not swept all before, it at least as yet. Eighth-century India was a land of conflicting metaphysical systems of vigorous intellectual contest, and of lively and intense religious aspiration.

To give the reader a little advantage (since the ideas of the Mahayana never easy to understand are no less remote today than in previous ages) it may be noted that Santideva is important as literary artist, although about all that comes through in translation is the richness of his imagery and that his special contribution to Mahayana thought is his summation of the concepts relating to the Bodhisattva and that the particular originality of this thought in his emphasis upon the Bodhisattva’s moral nature. His teaching of the identity of one’s self and another (paratma-samata) and of the transference of the self and the other (paratma-privartana) are his most extraordinary concepts. It is among the original contentions of this study, rightly or wrongly that such identity and transference were meant to be understood on the level of trance. Another thesis maintained herein is that the Bodhisattva is to be interpreted as a totally mental phenomenon. He is personification of the Thought of Enlightenment (bodhicitta) and as such he is the last remnant of individualization before total enlightenment is achieved. If we understand what thought (citta) really means, we understand everything phenomenal, up to and including the Bodhisattva. At least that is our theory of what Santideva was trying to say. The means to this understanding which we have examined one by one are many and varied and of these the one that merits special attention is pride (mana). No comparable use of pride exists in the religion of the world.

The Mind of the Bodhisattva is the real theme of Santideva’s work and to him, as to any Mahayana adherent it is a truly tremendous theme. It is like taking the Mind of Christ, as defined by orthodox Christianity, and trying to find out all that is contained within it. Perhaps in some ways it is an even greater theme (at least on theoretical level), for to understand the Mind of the Enlightenment being as defined by the Mahayana is to understand all the myriad worlds of illusion through which we are said to be swept by karma, and it is to understand exactly how to escape from those terrible worlds, and it is to be find out precisely what lies beyond them, and in the end it is to be what lies beyond them. It is only to understand all things, but it is to be all things. It is to become oneself the Mind of the Bodhisattva and then to realize that there is no Mind, and that there is no Bodhisattva. There is only the Unconditioned and even “there is” does not apply and “only” does not apply “the Unconditioned” does not apply. Such is the theme which Santideva examines.


Preface 5
Part one
Guide to the Bodhicaryavatara
Tribute 12
Introduction The Rise of the Madhyamika 13
1 The Great work 31
2 The Perfections 47
3 The Perfection of Contemplation 67
4 The Perfection of Wisdom.106
Part two
Translation of Buddhicaryavatara
by Santideva
1 Praising the Thought of Enlightenment 143
2 Confession of Evil147
3 Grasping the Thought of Enlightenment153
4Vigilance in the Thought of Enlightenment157
5Guarding of Total Awareness162
6 Perfection of Patience.173
7 Perfection of Strength 186
8 Perfection of Contemplation 194
9 Perfection of Wisdom 211
10 Consummation 227
Part Three
Abbreviations 235
Notes and References for the Guide 237
Notes and Reference for the Bodhicaryavatara 254
Bibliography 288
Glossary of Selected terms. 304
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